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Doe v. Kipp DC Supporting Corp.

United States District Court, District of Columbia

January 3, 2019

JANE DOE, Plaintiff,
v.
KIPP DC SUPPORTING CORP., et al. Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION GRANTING DEFENDANTS' MOTIONS TO DISMISS; DENYING WITHOUT PREJUDICE PLAINTIFF'S MOTION TO AMEND

          RUDOLPH CONTRERAS, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         I. INTRODUCTION

         Plaintiff Jane Doe, a survivor of sexual abuse as a middle and high school student between 2004 and 2009, initiated this case on February 2, 2018. Doe brings claims against her abuser, Alan Coleman; the two educational institutions that employed Coleman between 2004 and 2009 and allegedly knew of the abuse, Kipp DC Supporting Corporation (“Kipp DC”) and Capital City Public Charter School, Inc. (“Capital City”); and the founder and then-principal of Kipp DC, Susan Ettinger. Doe also brings claims against ten unnamed agents and employees of Kipp DC and Capital City. Defendants have separately moved to dismiss and all argue that Doe's claims are barred by the statute of limitations. While the Court is sympathetic to Doe's plight, and more generally to the difficulties encountered by victims of sexual assault in obtaining civil relief for their injuries, it finds that Doe's claims are time-barred under D.C. law. The Court accordingly grants the motions to dismiss. Because Doe's motion to amend her complaint fails to comply with its Local Rules, the Court denies the motion without prejudice.

         II. BACKGROUND[1]

         Doe began attending Kipp DC in 2000 or 2001, and was a student at the school until 2005. See Compl. ¶¶ 1, 20, ECF No. 4. She first came into contact with Coleman during the 2004-2005 school year, when Coleman became her eighth-grade science and history teacher. Id. ¶¶ 21, 28. After gaining her trust and confidence, Coleman began sexually assaulting Doe a few months after they met, in approximately November 2004. See Id. ¶ 26. Coleman would go on to continuously abuse Doe for the remainder of the 2004-2005 school year, subjecting her to frequent sexual assault and humiliation. See Id. Doe alleges that Ettinger and Kipp DC eventually came to suspect that Coleman was having inappropriate relations with her. See Id. ¶ 33. She further alleges that these suspicions led Kipp DC to discontinue Coleman's contract at the end of the 2004-2005 school year. Id. ¶ 29. Coleman subsequently found employment with Capital City starting in the 2005-2006 school year. Id. According to Doe, while Ettinger informed a Capital City board member of her suspicions, neither she, Kipp DC, nor Capital City undertook to investigate Coleman or in any other way take action to protect Doe and stop the abuse. See Id. ¶ 33.

         After being promoted to the ninth grade at the end of the 2004-2005 school year, Doe left Kipp DC and began attending another school. Id. ¶ 28. However, Coleman's abuse continued. See Id. ¶ 29. Doe's mother learned of the abuse during the 2005-2006 school year and reported Coleman's behavior to Capital City. Id. ¶ 31. According to Doe, Capital City failed to take any disciplinary action against Coleman. Id. In 2007, Coleman manipulated Doe into moving into his house, where they slept in the same room and bed. See Id. ¶ 51. As a result, the frequency of his assaults escalated. See Id. ¶ 53. Doe turned eighteen in 2008. See Id. ¶ 1. The relationship did not end until June 2009. Id. ¶ 26.

         In February 2015, Doe began to realize the wrongfulness of Coleman's behavior. On February 20, 2015, she questioned Coleman on Facebook about whether their relationship had been wrongful and abusive. Id. ¶ 34. On February 25, 2015, she asked Coleman to resign from his teaching position at Capital City, where he was still employed. Id. After he failed to do so, Doe contacted Capital City herself. Id. While Capital City then proceeded to terminate Coleman, the school did not notify the authorities of his behavior. Id. The D.C. Metropolitan Police Department was not alerted to Coleman's conduct until April 2016, when a former Kipp DC teacher who Doe also told of the abuse reached out to the police. See Id. ¶ 35. Coleman subsequently pled guilty to sexual abuse of a minor in Maryland state court and to first-degree sexual abuse in D.C. Superior Court. See Docket, People v. Coleman, No. 130514C (Md. Mongtomery Cty. Cir. Ct.); Docket, United States v. Coleman, 2016 CF1 011951 (D.C. Sup. Ct.).[2]

         Doe filed her complaint in this case on February 2, 2018, bringing claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, Title IX, and for negligence per se against Kipp DC, Ettinger, and Capital City (collectively, the “School Defendants”), gross negligence claims against Ettinger, and claims for assault, battery, and intentional infliction of emotional distress (“IIED”) against both Coleman and the School defendants.[3] See Compl. ¶¶ 58-160. Kipp DC and Ettinger (collectively, the “Kipp Defendants”) filed a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim on March 16, 2018, see Kipp Mot. Dismiss at 1, ECF No. 6, followed by Capital City on April 20, 2018, see Capital City Mot. Dismiss at 1, ECF No. 13, and Coleman on April 23, 2018, see Coleman Mot. Dismiss at 1, ECF No. 17. All three motions have been fully briefed.

         III. LEGAL STANDARD

         The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure require that a complaint contain “a short and plain statement of the claim” in order to give the defendant fair notice of the claim and the grounds upon which it rests. Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2); accord Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93 (2007) (per curiam). A motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) does not test a plaintiff's ultimate likelihood of success on the merits; rather, it tests whether a plaintiff has properly stated a claim. See Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236 (1974), abrogated on other grounds by Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800 (1982). A court considering such a motion presumes that the complaint's factual allegations are true and construes them liberally in the plaintiff's favor. See, e.g., Philip Morris, 116 F.Supp.2d at 135.

         “The statute of limitations is an affirmative defense, FRCP 8(c), and need not be negatived by the language of the complaint.” U.S. ex rel. Landis v. Tailwind Sports Corp., 51 F.Supp.3d 9, 38 (D.D.C. 2014) (quoting Jones v. Rogers Mem'l Hosp., 442 F.2d 773, 775 (D.C. Cir. 1971)). As a result, motions to dismiss based on a statute of limitations defense are generally disfavored, and the D.C. Circuit has “repeatedly held [that] courts should hesitate to dismiss a complaint on statute of limitations grounds based solely on the face of the complaint.” Firestone v. Firestone, 76 F.3d 1205, 1208-09 (D.C. Cir. 1996). In order for such a motion to be granted, “the factual allegations in the complaint must clearly demonstrate all the elements of the statute of limitations defense and that the plaintiff has no viable response to the defense.” Landis, 51 F.Supp.3d at 38 (citing Nader v. Democratic Nat'l Comm., 567 F.3d 692, 699-702 (D.C. Cir. 2009)); see also Jones v. Bock, 549 U.S. 199, 215 (2007) (noting that a “complaint is subject to dismissal for failure to state a claim” when the allegations “show that relief is barred by the applicable statute of limitations”).

         IV. ANALYSIS

         In their respective motions to dismiss, Defendants all argue that Doe's claims are barred by the statute of limitations. See Kipp Mem. Supp. Mot. Dismiss, ECF No. 6; Capital City Mem. Supp. Mot. Dismiss, ECF No. 13-1; Coleman Mem. Supp. Mot. Dismiss, ECF No. 17. In her oppositions, Doe raises several arguments for why her claims are not time-barred, including application of the discovery rule, continuing violation of a duty to report, and equitable tolling. See Pl.'s Opp'n to Kipp Mot. Dismiss, ECF No. 11.[4] In her opposition to the Capital City motion to dismiss, Doe also moves in the alternative to amend the complaint. See Pl's Opp'n to Capital City Mot. Dismiss at 14, ECF No. 18. The Court first reviews the parties' arguments as to the Title IX, § 1983, and IIED claims, followed by their arguments as to Doe's negligence per se and gross negligence claims, and their arguments as to the assault and battery claims. Finally, the Court briefly addresses Doe's motion to amend the complaint. Because the Court finds that Doe's claims are time-barred as a matter of law and that the motion to amend fails to comply with its Local Rules, it grants the motions to dismiss and denies leave to amend the complaint.

         A. Doe's Title IX, § 1983, and IIED Claims Are Time-Barred

         First, the Defendants argue that the applicable statute of limitations has passed on Doe's Title IX, § 1983, and IIED claims. See Kipp Mem. Supp. at 6-11; Capital City Mem. Supp. at 6-7; Coleman Mem. Supp. at 5-6. Doe retorts that the discovery rule tolled the statute of limitations until she realized the wrongfulness of her relationship with Coleman, and therefore that all three claims are timely. See, e.g., Pl.'s Kipp Opp'n at 3-6, 8-9. The Court disagrees and finds that, as a matter of law, the discovery rule is not applicable to this case. As a result, the statute of limitations began running on Doe's claims when she turned eighteen and her claims are untimely.

         1. The Discovery Rule Does Not Apply

         Doe argues that her case “falls squarely with the discovery rule decisions in the District of Columbia, ” Pl.'s Kipp Opp'n at 4, because she alleges that she did not realize she was abused until February 2015. The Court disagrees. Because past D.C. Court of Appeals decisions and legislative history consistently suggest that the discovery rule should not be extended to situations where a victim of sexual abuse recalls that abuse but does not appreciate its wrongfulness, the Court declines to extend the discovery rule to Doe's claims.

         As an initial matter, Doe's IIED claim is pursuant to D.C. law, and thus subject to D.C. tolling rules. As the School Defendants acknowledge, neither Title IX nor § 1983 provide for specific statutes of limitations. See Kipp Mem. Supp. at 3-4; Capital City Mem. Supp. at 6-7. Instead, “the appropriate statute of limitations for a § 1983 claim ‘is that which the State provides for personal-injury torts.'” Morris v. Carter Global Lee, Inc., 997 F.Supp.2d 27, 35 (D.D.C. 2013) (quoting Wallace v. Kato, 549 U.S. 384, 387 (2007)). For Title IX, “federal law requires applying the local statute of limitation for the most-analogous injury.” Mwabira-Simerav. Howard Univ., 692 F.Supp.2d 65, 71 (D.D.C. 2010) (citing Wilson v. Garcia, 471 U.S. 261, 275 (1985)). “When a federal cause of action borrows a state statute of limitations, ‘coordinate tolling rules' are usually borrowed as well.” King-White v. Humble Indep. Sch. Dist., 803 F.3d 754, 764 (5th Cir. 2015) (quoting Hardin v. Straub, 490 U.S. 536, 539 (1989)); see also Island Insteel Sys., Inc. v. Waters, 296 F.3d 200, 210 n.4 (3rd Cir. 2002) (“[W]here a court borrows a statute of ...


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